Commission hires former hospital administrator to run county

Ryan Lengerich: CNJ staff writer

Former hospital administrator Dick Smith will succeed Geneva Cooper as Curry County manager, commissioners announced Tuesday.

Smith, a certified public accountant, has signed a six-month contract beginning Jan. 3.

Cooper, who announced her resignation in September, has held the position for 15 years. Her final day will be Dec. 17.

The decision to hire Smith followed a nearly two-hour closed session. Smith was not among the nine applicants or four finalists for the position announced on Nov. 4.

Chairperson Kathrynn Tate said the commission turned to Smith when, in addition to Cooper, Assistant County Manager Jimmy Dunn retired and Budget Analyst Bernice Baker accepted a job as chief deputy treasurer for the county.

Tate said the key loss was Baker, who was going to be preparing the upcoming budget.

“It changed the qualification of our applicants and we need somebody strong in budget and Dick is a CPA and we felt like the people who had applied did not have as much experience as Dick,” Tate said.

Smith’s contract is still in negotiation with the county lawyer, but commissioner Tim Ashley said the commission agreed to a contract that would pay him $42,000 salary over the six-month period. Cooper earned $62,897.50 in 2003.

Commissioner Pete Hulder said the contract was based on terms negotiated with Smith. At the end of the six months, Hulder said he expects to hire Smith permanently if he wants the job.

“I feel confident that in six months if he wants to stay, and I think he will, we’ll be satisfied because of his vast background in management,” Hulder said.

Smith left open the possibility he will pursue the job after six months.

“I think we (the commission) are looking at shoring up for a bit, but I think we are going to leave all avenues open after that,” he said. “Right now we are looking at a six-month situation but we have some flexibility on that.”

Smith said he has spent the last 20 years in healthcare. He is also active in the community as a former Chamber of Commerce president and he currently serves on the Hotel Clovis Committee.

“Basically they are looking at someone who has a fairly extensive financial background and management background to take a look at some of the issues,” Smith said. “My agreement with the County Commission is we will move forward with all the projects currently being worked on.”

The four candidates announced earlier this month were:

• Roosevelt County Administrator Charlene Hardin;
• Capt. Chris L. Pacheco of the national guard;
• Curry County special projects coordinator and purchasing officer Twila Rutter-Wooley;
• and Master Sgt. Brian Rogers of the United States Air Force.